CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Pandemic. Protests. Shooting deaths.
So far the story of 2020 is bound up in this trifecta, one spilling into the other like a Venn diagram — and at its center, the relationship between Cincinnati’s police force and the community it promises to serve.
Cincinnati Police Assistant Chief Paul Neudigate explains COVID-19 caused police to “step back” beginning in March and April, meaning CPD could no longer practice its community-focused violence reduction efforts. Unable to be proactive, the department was forced into reaction mode as Cincinnati entered a veritable lockdown.
“It drastically changed how we police,” Neudigate said.
The information pipeline officers and detectives rely on to track and solve crimes also dried up.
“When we drastically change the way we police and (our) response mode, where we don’t want to go out, and limit our interaction with the community, we no longer have that trust,” Neudigate explained. “We are no longer getting the information on locations and individuals that are committing violence.”
Now shooting deaths are up 50 percent in 2020 over 2019, and Cincinnati is on pace for one of its most violent years ever.
CPD was able to return to proactive policing in May, but then the protests started. Neudigate himself emerged as something of a bridge-builder, with the Enquirer capturing video of a fruitful exchange between him and protesters outside City Hall.
But in other ways, Neudigate explains, it was back to square one.
“We started to stabilize our numbers, started to make progress. Then the riots occurred, and then, yes, for the last month, where we could have been proactive, we have been reactive in dealing with riots, demonstrations and protests.
“Yes, it has hampered our ability to proactively address gun violence.”
Gun violence is exactly the issue Cincinnati Works took up Friday when it and other groups held a rally on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Reading Road.
Cincinnati Works is a non-profit agency that provides free, lifetime career coaching and support services.
“We got to stop this gun violence,” Cincinnati Works Community Engagement Specialist Mitchell Morris said through his microphone.
The crowd chanted and laid out body bags in the yard to symbolize lives lost to shootings.
“The vision here, and a visual that people really need to see, is that in 2019 we had 73 homicides. To date we are at 51,” Pastor Ennis Tait of New Beginnings Church of the Living God explained.
“These body bags represent families, they represent communities, they represent generations, and we want people to be able to see the impact that this violence is having on our communities.”
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Tait says the cycle of violence begins when people witness shootings and violence in their own neighborhoods, which sparks trauma, repression and anger. In his words: “Hurt people hurt people.”
Asked what will solve the city’s spike in gun violence, Tait harkens back to a well worn injunction: If you see something, say something.
“That’s not just a saying, that’s a reality. We need to be vocal about what we are seeing and who we are seeing and who’s committing these crimes and begin to share that information with the right people so we can solve some of these homicides and begin to heal our city,” he said.
That’s music to Neudigate’s ears as he works to mend ties with the community — ties that are now more frayed than at any point since Cincinnati’s 2001 riots.
“We will not figure this out in a month, or three months,” he said. “We are going to struggle, because a lot of success is based on the relationship with the community, and that is strained right now.”